In Search of the Gay Gene

 

Progress in the search for a genetic component for homosexuality,
as reported in the February 3, 2005 [San Diego] Update

CHICAGO - In the first-ever study combing the entire human genome for genetic determinants of male sexual orientation, University of Illinois at Chicago researcher Brian Mustanski has identified several areas that appear to influence whether a man is straight or gay. Working with colleagues at the National Institutes of Health, he found stretches of DNA that appeared to be linked to sexual orientation on three different chromosomes in the nucleus of cells of the human male.

"There is no one 'gay' gene," explained Mustanski who is a psychologist in the UIC Department of Psychiatry and lead author of this study. "Sexual orientation is a complex trait, so it is not surprising that we found several DNA regions involved in its expression. Our best guess is that multiple genes, potentially interacting with environmental influences, explain differences in sexual orientation." His research will be published in the March issue of the biomedical journal Human Genetics.

The genomes of 456 men from 146 families with two or more gay brothers were analyzed. While earlier studies had focused solely on the X chromosome, this latest study also examined all 22 pairs of non-sex chromosomes. The other sex chromosome called Y was not explored because it is not believed to contain many genes. Three identical stretches of DNA on chromosomes 7, 8, and 10 were found to be shared in about 60 percent of the gay brothers in the study, compared to about 50 percent expected by chance. That region on chromosome 10 correlated with sexual orientation only if it was inherited from the mother.

"Our study helps to establish that genes play an important role in determining whether a man is gay or heterosexual," commented Mustanski. "The next steps will be to see if these findings can be confirmed and to identify the particular genes within these newly discovered chromosomal sequences that are linked to sexual orientation."

The University of California at San Diego, Pennsylvania State University, and the University of California at Los Angeles were also involved in this study which was supported in part by grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

 


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